Oscars: Campaign Mailings Must Now Go Through Academy, Song and Score Categories Get Shortlists

Oscars Statue - Getty - H 2018
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Everyone who intends to wage an Oscar campaign this season will need to pay close attention to a host of new rules and regulations that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Tuesday morning.

Impacting the largest number of people will be a new policy — first reported by The Hollywood Reporter back in January — that requires studios, distributors and filmmakers to use "an Academy-approved mailing house to send sanctioned awards materials for eligible films to Academy members," whether that material is physical or digital. The mailing houses will be furnished with an official list of Academy members who have opted-in to received mailings, ensuring that members actually receive things that are intended for them, while also regulating the amount of material with which they are inundated. Though not stated in Tuesday's announcement, the Film Academy, like its counterpart, the Television Academy, will charge a middle-man fee for each mailing, which will undoubtedly provide welcome financial relief for the organization at a time when it is working to finish financing its still-under-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Another new policy that will impact many contenders this season pertains to post-nomination campaigning. No film can have more than four post-nomination screenings-attached-to-Q&As, "regardless of category or country in which the event takes place." This new wording "eliminates the two additional screenings currently allowed for Documentary and Foreign Language Film nominees," but will not impact post-nomination events like the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, at which nominated talent often appear for a career-retrospective Q&A that touches upon the recently nominated work, since no screening of the work is attached to the Q&A.

Those involved with documentary feature contenders also will have some new things to consider moving forward. The Academy will now deem as Oscar-eligible any doc features that wins "a qualifying award at a competitive film festival ... regardless of any prior public exhibition or distribution by nontheatrical means." The list of fests and awards will be made available later this spring, but this is an unmistakable win for Netflix, the streaming giant that qualifies a host of documentary features each year, and now will — potentially — be able to do so without giving them even a token theatrical release if they pick up an award at a qualifying festival. The move will also make it easier for docs made outside of America to compete for an Oscar — and will add even more films to the already massive number that documentary branch members are asked to consider before determining their shortlist. Last year, the number of docs submitted for consideration hit 170.

Qualifying for Oscar eligibility is also getting easier for documentary features that do not win automatic Oscar eligibility via a festival award. Last year, in addition to screening for a week in Los Angeles, doc features had to be reviewed in The New York Times or Los Angeles Times. This year, on top of the weeklong screening, a review in one of three other publications — LA Weekly, Time Out NY and the Village Voice — will also confirm eligibility.

When it comes to the Academy's music categories, things are likely to get a bit more cut-throat than ever earlier in the season, with the music branch announcing that it will announce a shortlist of 15 finalists for the best original score and best original song Oscars, as determined by a preferential ballot, in December. This means that more than a month before Oscar noms are announced, the vast majority of contenders for each of those awards will be eliminated.

Good news has arrived for producers of films aiming to compete for the best animated feature and best documentary feature Oscars. In recent years, no more than one producer could be nominated alongside a director in those categories, but the Academy has now aligned its rules governing those categories with the rules governing the best picture category so that three producers can be eligible for a film, with the possibility of a fourth if an appeal is approved.

The visual effects branch's nominating committee, which evaluates the VFX work of films that made the branch's shortlist at a "bake-off" in order to determine its nominees, is likely to grow and diversify this year. That's because the bake-off reels will now be made available online, thereby opening up participating on the nominating committee to members who are not L.A.-based.

Finally, as part of an effort to streamline voting deadlines, the Academy announced that six "specialty categories" — best animated feature, best documentary feature and best foreign language feature, plus all three shorts categories, best animated short, best documentary short and best live action short — will now have the same submission deadline of Oct. 1, while hopefuls in all other categories will have until Nov. 15 to enter the race.